Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Let's be careful out there

News from televisionland has been consuming my attention of late, to wit:

-The burn-off of Arrested Development's last four episodes in a marathon programmed opposite the Olympic opening ceremonies.

-The merger of UPN and The WB into a single new network called The CW.

-The blink-and-you'll-miss-it run of The Book of Daniel on NBC, not to mention even briefer appearances for the Heather Graham vehicle Emily's Reasons Why Not and the revival of Jake in Progress.

-The news that the Bocho-ized Commander-in-Chief is going on hiatus during February sweeps.

-The efforts of fans to raise money to finance a second season of Firefly.

Is there a common thread in these bits and pieces? Only that a really good show is still hard to find. I liked Book of Daniel and will be sad to see it go, but it was hardly great television. Commander was fun before Rod Lurie was shunted aside. It was engaging because it was goofy and broad, because its feminism was so earnest and obvious, because it had heroes and villains. Now it's just a run-of-the-mill political thriller and no one is watching (not that I mean to imply cause-and-effect here, mind you; no one is watching because it's on opposite Idol). Everyone knew that Arrested wouldn't have a long run, that it was more or less a miracle that it made it to a third season. And I've never been surprised that it has missed its shot at mass appeal. It's too clever by three and a half and hard work to get. I never thought it was very mainstream entertainment; its sensibility is too sophisticated for network prime time. And why shouldn't we be satisfied with a few dozen episodes of a good show? That should be enough. The British version of The Office had only fourteen episodes.

I never got into Firefly so I can't say it excites me that there might be more of it. But the idea of patronage funding television series production is nothing less than delightful. I wish the My So-Called Life fans had come up with that ten years ago. That said, the likelihood of reassembling the cast and crew of a long defunct show seems slim.

Then there's The CW. Much has been said about its name, which apparently might be changed before the netlet launches next fall. Commentators have also dwelt on which shows might make the cut or not when two networks become one. Everyone is rightly drooling over the prospect of a Gilmore-Veronica night. What interests me more is the extent to which having one fewer network will diminish the number of watchable programs in prime time. Who knows if Veronica Mars would have made it to air on The CW? It was a small show with only a bit of buzz that earned its high profile through a whole season of good storytelling and word of mouth. With half as many programs seeing the light of day, that means the chances of a good one making it to air are less than they used to be.

Here's one more:

-American Idol's ratings are way up at the point in its run when you'd figure they'd be petering out.

I like Idol once the competition gets started, but I feel dirty after watching even five or ten minutes of the audition episodes. The humiliation of the wannabes and the goofballs is just too much. But I have caught a couple of these eps and with E in charge of the ffwding it's just about bearable. She is somehow able to know which contestants will be bad and which will be good by the patterns of editing and mise en scene even in very fast ffwd and she stops to watch only the contestants who are going to make it to Hollywood. Seeing it this way, at least half the fun comes from marveling at her advanced TiVo skills.

Finally, when it seems there's nothing on worth watching there's always TV on DVD. The first season of Hill Street Blues is now available so that we can watch it again and see how it holds up after 25 years.

How to make baba ganoush

I took what eggplant flesh remained after yesterday's explosion and combined it in the Cuisinart with a good big spoonful of mayonnaise, a splash of rice wine vinegar (in lieu of lemon juice; there wasn't any), a drizzle of olive oil, and salt and pepper. Some might insist on garlic or herbs in this sort of thing. Well.

It was good all by itself and even better as a condiment--a kind of Mediterranean tartar sauce--with the tuna steaks that were for dinner. It was also good as a dip for the homefried potatoes on the side.

Monday, January 30, 2006

How not to make baba ganoush

When roasting a whole eggplant in a hot oven, it's a good idea to pierce the skin first.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Steam it

Steamed fish might sound like blah spa food best left for the low-fat fanatics who spread mustard on their multigrain toast and leave the yolks out of their omelets, but I don't think so. Steaming is a gentle cooking method perfect for delicate and subtle foods. And if you collect the steaming liquid, which contains the fish's juices and any other tasty bits you add to the mix, you basically have an instant sauce to go with your protein. I certainly prefer steaming fish to grilling it, and unless I'm going to cover the fish in some kind of coating I'd rather not sauté or fry. Sautéd or fried fish are great too, of course, but there's something about the simplicity of steaming that I find immensely appealing.

There are several ways to steam fish. Cooking it on a plate in a steamer basket is one way, but it can be tricky to get the hot plate of fish out without some specialized tongs that I don't have. Baking en papillote, in a paper or foil pouch, is essentially steaming. It's effective and the presentation is dramatic but it has two drawbacks. One, cutting paper into papillote shapes is an extra step that takes a few minutes. Two, it's impossible to check for doneness without opening the pouch and if the fish isn't ready it's not easy to reseal the paper. Like everyone else I'm always looking for shortcuts and tricks and I think I've figured out a good alternative for steaming fish which I am calling pan steaming. I don't claim to have discovered this for the whole world, just for myself. Indeed, I recall Jacques Pépin cooking eggs using a similar method on one of his TV shows so perhaps I owe my idea to him.

For this method you will need a nonstick pan with a tight-fitting lid (or aluminum foil), a little bit of oil, a piece of fish, a few tablespoons of water, and some salt and pepper. Some aromatics or other flavorful complements to the fish are nice and lately I've been sticking with the standard Chinese accompaniments of fermented black beans and ginger sliced into matchsticks. Basically, anything you might put in a papillote should work: lemon, garlic, tomatoes, capers, herbs, spices, white wine.

You heat the pan with a drop of oil in it--I have been using peanut oil--and when it's hot but not smoking lay the fish, seasoned with salt and pepper, in the oil. Last night we had escolar, which is rich and meaty, but I've done this with salmon and mahi mahi too with good results. Scatter the ginger and black beans (or whatever) over the fish, add the water to the hot pan, and cover immediately. Such a small amount of water should boil and turn to steam immediately in a hot pan and so keeping it over medium heat should steam things up well. After about ten minutes check for doneness, which will depend on the thickness and shape of your fish. Filets of medium thickness might be done in under ten minutes; thicker pieces might need another few. I have been cooking one pound pieces without portioning them first since big pieces are less likely to overcook than small pieces. I test for doneness by poking around with a thin-bladed knife.

Made with ginger and black beans, the fish juices, water, and aromatics combine to make a nice sauce to drizzle over the fish and some steamed white rice. A green vegetable or salad is nice too.

Thursday, January 26, 2006


At the Public Market fish counter today they had a whole monkfish in the display. I had never taken a good look at one of these guys (though I've eaten them a bunch of times) and was impressed by their legendary ugliness.

Sometimes monkfish are called "allmouth" because their huge heads are mostly mouth. When the fishmonger pulled its jaw open it was at eye level with the little man sitting in his stroller. This sight didn't interrupt him from his snacking on goldfish crackers for more than a brief moment. He seemed to find it neither scary nor cool.

And the fishmonger pointed out to me that the monkfish has teeth in the back of its throat. Nasty.

We took home a nice piece of escolar, which I've never tried. Monkfish will wait for another time.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

More of four

The dastardly Sinner wants me to make a bunch of lists. Since I did this one already, I'm going to make up a bunch of variations.

Four things I don't understand:
1. Car racing.
2. People whose idea of fun is doing work around the house.
3. Restaurants where you're supposed to cook the food yourself.
4. Why people still send inappropriate, embarrassing messages intended for an individual to a whole e-mail list.

Four things I think I understand but wouldn't want to have to explain to someone off the top of my head:
1. Freudian psychoanalysis.
2. Why gay men admire Judy Garland.
3. The difference between morality and ethics.
4. How a movie projector works--the details, not the general principle.

Four things I understand very well:
1. The difference between a first cousin once removed and a second cousin. Also the difference between your brother-in-law and your sister-in-law's husband.
2. Why some people prefer Paul McCartney to John Lennon.
3. The infield fly rule.
4. How to make mayonnaise by hand.

Four albums I could listen to every day and never tire of:
1. Bob Dylan, Blonde on Blonde.
2. Grateful Dead, American Beauty.
3. Neil Young, After the Goldrush.
4. Bill Frisell, Have a Little Faith.

Four blogs I recently added to my RSS reader:
1. The Blog That Ate Manhattan, undoubtedly the world's first and only gastrOBGYNblog.
2. Anapestic. A food blog with a non-food name, kind of like this one.
3. TV Squad. I am a slave of the television.
4. Daily Dose of Imagery, a Toronto photoblog that I really can't get enough of.
(I might add here that I'm a relative newcomer to the delights of the RSS reader, which is fast becoming my favorite thing. You click "refresh all" and watch the magic happen.)

Four things I'm looking forward to:
1. A trip to a conference in Vancouver in March. If you know where to eat there, I'm all ears.
2. The Belle & Sebastian concert, also in March.
3. The return of The Sopranos, in...March!
4. The return of playground weather. Knowing Milwaukee, probably not really till April. But perhaps in March.

Now I command you--I mean you!--to complete the meme of four. And if you have done it already, I command you to do it again as I have. No exceptions.

Monday, January 23, 2006

The cure

Helen of the fishtastic blog Beyond Salmon has given me the opportunity to share my idea of a cold remedy with y'all. In other words, I have been tagged in another of these memes. It is my pleasure to participate.

When I get sick I like to suck on lozenges. These tend to spoil the mouth for all foods but at least they numb a sore throat. Sometimes I do take tea with honey. Chamomile goes well with honey and it was my remedy of choice as a child, but lately it's not exactly my...cup of tea. Now I prefer what a stickler might call "tea" and I have become a bit maniacal about it. I have nothing against rosehip or lemon peel or mint leaves, I'm just not the least bit interested in mixing them with hot water and drinking the brew.

I don't have a cold remedy, actually. When I get a cold I just wait for it to go away. E tries to get me to take Sudafed or cough medicine and I do sometimes go along with that. But only the drugs with codeine really work for a cough and no matter what any of the other memesters might tell you, there is no cure for a cold. When I get a cold I mainly just suffer.

I do have a good hiccup remedy. I seem to get an awful lot of hiccups and they're really noisy. They sound like Foley work in a bad horror film. Anyhow, you fill a tall glass with water and drink it all down in one gulp with a soupspoon pressed between your upper lip and the rim of the glass. Is that clear? You put the spoon across the rim of the glass as you would rest a paddle across the sides of a canoe and as you sip you hold it in place with your upper lip. E says that drinking the water in a single gulp isn't part of the remedy and she should know as she taught it to me--yet another reason that I am forever in her debt--but I say go for broke and drink it down.

Finally, I have a remedy for the winter blues. It's called a Champagne cocktail but you can make it with any sparkling wine. The Catalan Freixenet (which wins the Prada award for Least Informative Website) that comes in those stylish black bottles is a good value. In addition to Champagne or something like it, you will also need a tall flute, a sugar cube, and some bitters. Drop the sugar cube into the bottom of the glass, shake on the bitters, fill with Champagne, and watch your winter blues float off into the cold, foggy dusk.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Fun with schmaltz

For this one you'll want to press your nose against the monitor to see if you catch a whiff of chicken fat.

These are mashed Russet potatoes made with salt, schmaltz, and grebenes. Served with extra schmaltz and grebenes at the table. Butter and cream are nice, but schmaltz makes these into a whole different dish. And if you must keep kosher and you're going to eat meat, schmaltz is really your only option. (In case you have forgotten, grebenes are the crisp bits of skin left over after rendering schmaltz, in addition to onions added to flavor the fat.)

It would be customary in the tradition of my people to make a joke here about how eating this kind of food will hasten your death. But that stuff isn't funny and anyway, we know now that the margarine we used to eat by the big plastic tubful was only slightly more nutritious than anthrax. I grew up eating hideous quantities of margarine, the horror. It's salty, spreads easily right out of the fridge, and can be eaten with milk or meat. And to think, all that time it could have been schmaltz I was devouring.

The only problem with schmaltz is that you have to render it yourself--at least around here you do--and I can't quite keep up the supply I would like. So we keep butter out on the countertop, which according to some amateur sociologists is like a big sign reading "GENTILES WERE HERE."

Every time I cook with schmaltz lately I hear in my head the sing-songy verses of Amy Wilson Sanger's Let's Nosh, which my parents insist they bought for the little man at the MoMA giftshop. While not quite a chestnut on the order of the Goodnights Gorilla or Moon, Let's Nosh does have its charms. It helps to try to imagine the voice of Zero Mostel (a world-class nosher in his day) reading the words and to begin every other line "Oy..."
"Carrot tsimmes," calls my tummy, "Let's nosh on kasha knish."
Look how I made mish-mosh of my gefilte fish!

I smell fresh-baked challah--it must be Friday night!
I dip my pinky in the wine. We eat by candlelight.

Slurp a sip of chicken soup with floating matzoh balls.
Chopped liver spread on dark rye bread tastes best with extra schmaltz.

Here's a scoop of noodle kugel in my fancy-schmancy bowl...
Next to fruit-filled hamentaschen and some nutty rugelach rolls.

"This bubelah loves bagles!" my grandma likes to say.
They're great with lox and cream cheese or most any other way!

I like applesauce and sour cream on my hot potato latkes.
But today my tummy says, "Let's nosh on lots and lots of matzoh!"
You might know Amy Wilson Sanger as the author of several other multiculti food books for kids: First Book of Sushi, Hola Jalapeno, Yum Yum Dim Sum, Mangia! Mangia!, and A Little Bit of Soul Food. I can only imagine that Japanese, Latino, Chinese, Italian, and African-American parents are no less embarrassed by caricatures of their ethnic identity than we are by Let's Nosh. That said, chopped liver spread on dark rye bread, like many other things, does taste best with extra schmaltz.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

SPAM spam

Below you see my Gmail spam folder. Every time I load the page, a link to a different recipe appears. Is everyone getting this crap or does Google know me too well? (Yes, there are 87 unread messages in my inbox. No, this does not bother me in the slightest.)

While on the topic of dubious recipes, here's one from a local chef, John Raymond, printed in MKE magazine. The article in which it appears is about the quick, healthy meals that chefs prepare at home.
mixed-up salad with creamy vinagrette
cook time none

Lamb and goat cheese tart
Grilled asparagus
Poached scallops
Camembert cheese
Cranberry walnut bread
Salt and pepper to taste
Red verjus (an acidic, sour juice made from unripe fruit)

Toss all the ingredients and drizzle with any favorite creamy salad dressing. This salad is a medley of foods from the cupboard, refrigerator and cooler. The foods used here were the excess at John's restaurant. Use whatever foods you have that are not enough for a full meal.
(Here's some more fun with Gmail.)

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Belgian beef + links

So this is what became of the raw meat from the other day. It's a Carbonades Flamandes, or Carbonnade, or whatever. It's a dish of beef cooked in ale. Flamandes means Flemish and since Belgium is a beer country, their beef stew is a beer dish. Making Carbonades was in part an excuse to buy more of my latest ale of choice, the Belgian-style Ommegang that I used to cook short ribs a few weeks ago. I decided after that success to try cooking using the Ommegang in something like a proper European slow food recipe and I recalled seeing such a thing in a blog. (I can also now report that it would be worth finding culinary excuses to buy the same brewery's Hennepin ale, a light blonde to Ommegang's dark amber.)

I have a habit of buying ingredients at the store, then coming home and finding recipes to "follow" in cooking them. This is the sort of thing for which the term ass-backwards was invented. Perhaps I prefer the challenge of coming up with novel variations and ingenious substitutions to strict directions-following. To my amazement, when I was ready to start cooking I found that real recipes for a Belgian beef stew call for such things as pain d'épice, cassonade, and fresh pork fat. Some say you can substitute bread spread with mustard for the pain d'épice or brown sugar for cassonade. Well I didn't have most of these things on hand and, to tell you the truth, I'm still not sure exactly what some of them are or whether I can get them at the stores around here. I was a bit wary of adding sweet ingredients to a dish already containing onions, beer, and beef, but I would never think twice about that kind of thing in an Asian recipe so I kind of went along. I used gingersnaps, a standard thickener in another beef stew, sauerbraten, in place of both the bread and the sugar. I held off on adding vinegar, another standard addition, until after the dish had cooked to see if I really thought it would need brightening up. It did so I added it.

This stew gave me another opportunity to play around with salting meat ahead of time. Rather than salt the meat just before browning it I salted it (when I took the elephant picture) a day ahead of time and let it sit in the fridge. Good results every time I've tried this and not much surprise there. If you give the salt the time, it will penetrate beyond just the surface of the meat. I've done the same with chicken and short ribs and I might also give it a try with fish, which might be a kind of halfway-there gravlax. Marinating (not to mention brining) accomplishes much the same thing.

The way it works:
Cut up two-plus lbs. beef chuck, well-trimmed of fat, salt it liberally, leave it aside for a day;
bown in peanut oil in a hot pan, I did this in three batches so as not to crowd the pan;
add two big onions, sliced, to the hot pan and stir them around (here I also added some flour, as per many a recipe, and this was definitely not necessary--the dish turned out quite thick);
add Belgian ale, the better part of one of those big Belgian ale bottles, and deglaze the pan, scraping the surface with a wooden spatula;
return the beef to the pot along with gingersnaps, about ten, crumbled up coarsely, a bouquet garni containing bay leaves, peppercorns, thyme, and parsley, and water enough barely to cover the meat.
Simmer for a few hours, until the beef falls apart under gentle fork pressure. I cooked for about three hours in a covered pot in a 275 degree oven.
When it's done, remove the bouquet and add a few splashes of red wine vinegar. Taste to see if it needs salt and pepper It's better a day or two after cooking so don't be in a hurry. Garnish with fresh chopped parsley.

We ate this with a green salad and some crusty bread. I liked my short ribs better but I would make this again, probably without the gingersnaps. I don't think it needs so much thickening or sweetening. (Are the Belgian people thumbing their collective nose at this ignorant pronouncement? Where ya at, foodies of Belgium?)


Now for some links on a theme quite different from anything to do with Carbonades. I collected these a few days ago but neglected to post them so they're a little stale. Just pretend today is Thursday and you'll be in link heaven.

How big should a bagel be? (Don't skip the comments to this one.)

Because every holiday needs its movie, Passover and Purim flicks are coming soon to a theater near you. (The Passover movie "When Do We Eat?" is set at a seder. Hilarity ensues when Papa is slipped a dose of ecstasy. That voice in my head saying "vey is mir!" would be my mother's.)

Might a plate of shawarma rouse the Israeli PM back to consciousness? (I guess it's not looking good.)

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Beans, greens, and sausages

These are Great Northern beans, turnip greens (actually the lovely tender tops from the fresh turnips I bought at the market the other day, produce of Texas), and Usinger's brand chorizo. Usinger's, a local institution, specializes in German sausages. Their chorizo seems suspiciously interchangeable with their andouille and neither one is the real McCoy. But when you shop at the factory store you can always find one or the other at a crazy reduced price on the "seconds" table. There's always something worth buying from the "seconds": applewood bacon, corned beef chunks for hash, wursts you've never even heard of. Some people look at me funny when I tell them I like to buy discount sausages from the Usinger's store, but I tell them that these products merely have defective labels. I don't know that for a fact; I say it to make it all seem not quite so sketchy. But nothing I've bought there in the past couple of years has ever been bad.

Is there a recipe for this dish? It's just as it looks. Simmer the beans in plenty of salted water (no canned beans, please), cook the greens, chop up and brown the sausages, sauté some onions and garlic, add a bit of stock or, if there isn't any around, the bean cooking liquid or the greens' pot likker, simmer everything together, see if it needs salt, and spoon it up. This goes well with saltine crackers, sour cream, and Tabasco sauce. All of the ingredients are subject to variation and this actually isn't my favorite combo. I would prefer cranberry beans, kale or collards, and a more authentic spicy sausage. But this is what I had so this is what I made. A person's lunch could be worse.

If you want some of this raw meat, first you'll have to speak with my toy elephant

Kopp's in Glendale

Winter has curbed my enthusiasm for making ice cream but not for eating it. As I have said before, Kopp's Frozen Custard is the filet of the frozen desserts. I took the little man there for his afternoon snack today and in the process went on a bit of a photo safari. The flavors of the day were caramel cashew and chocolate malt, the latter of which you see below. The menu describes it as "a light chocolate malt flavor with chunks of malted milk balls." It didn't take me long to finish it. The kid had vanilla, which is still my favorite of them all. I persist in trying all of the other flavors to satisfy my curiosity but at this point I'm positive that none will ever beat vanilla. The cows are out behind the building, alongside I-43. They stand on ledges at the bottom of a hill, about four feet off the ground. When you stand next to them you have to tilt your head back to look at their heads and the effect is a bit creepy. All are white except for that one lonely black cow.

It is my pleasure to live in the Dairy State.

Kopp's Frozen Custard
5373 N. Port Washington Rd.
Glendale, WI 53217
(414) 961-3288
Flavor Line (414) 961-2006

Monday, January 09, 2006

Eggs poached & scrambled

The food column in yesterday's NYT Magazine, by a chef named Daniel Patterson, is about egg cookery. The setup:
When I was given a temporary reprieve from the daily routines of restaurant kitchens early last year, I decided to try acting like a civilized person and eat a proper breakfast.
I'm all for that. Patterson decides to fry eggs for breakfast in his nonstick pan but soon enough his fiancée makes him throw it away for fear of its toxic fumes. When you heat up a nonstick pan past the medium stage the fumes are strong enough to kill birds. Ok, that's too bad for the birds and those who love them. But seriously, do the fumes harm humans? No one can say for certain that they do or do not but some people aren't taking any chances. But wait a second. Should you scramble your eggs in a pan that has been preheated to 600 degrees? No, never, terrible idea. I should have stopped reading at this point but I continued because I'll read anything about cooking eggs. Once the Teflon is out we get a montage of unsuccessful alternatives:
Attempts at making scrambled eggs in a regular sauté pan led to crusty egg proteins stuck to the cooking surface, no matter how much fat I used. Eggs fried in a cast-iron pan spattered everywhere - not to mention that fried eggs without bacon just didn't seem right, and nor did bacon as a daily staple. Soft-boiled eggs were far too irritating to peel before coffee, and even the thought of dry, mealy, hard-boiled eggs made me cringe. If I wanted eggs for breakfast, it seemed, I was going to have to poach them.
A chef can't figure out how to fry eggs in a regular pan? Can't tolerate a bit of grease to wipe up after breakfast? Can't peel an egg? Can't hard cook one properly either? Given this information, why should I take this person's culinary advice?

So he eats regular poached eggs every day for breakfast until he tires of them, at which point he is about to cry eureka:
what would happen, I wondered, if I beat the eggs before putting them in the water? I expected that they would act much as the intact eggs did and bind quickly, but I did not expect them to set into the lightest, most delicate scrambled eggs imaginable.
I believe our correspondent is talking about egg drop soup, hold the soup.

Lest we think it simple to pour beaten eggs into hot water, consider:
The most important factor is using only the thick whites and the yolk. At first I could get this technique to work only with very fresh farmer's-market eggs, whose viscous whites are high in protein (the main bonding agent). As eggs age, the thick part of the white erodes, and the thin, watery part increases, which is why fresh eggs (less than one week old) are best for eating, and older ones are better suited for meringues. This flummoxed me until a quick e-mail message to my friend Harold McGee, the food scientist and author of "On Food and Cooking," solved the problem. He discovered that using supermarket eggs is just fine if you start by cracking each one into a slotted spoon (or sieve) and let the thin white drain away, then work with the remaining thick white and yolk.
First of all, Harold McGee has become to food writing what Robert J. Thompson is to pop culture journalism, i.e., the only name in the rolodex. And if indeed McGee is the friend of every writer who calls him that, he must be, oh, just the friendliest person since Mr. Rogers.

Second of all, I tried straining my thin whites through a slotted spoon. Not a task I intend to repeat. The whole egg kept slipping off the spoon, then the whole white kept slipping off the yolk. I decided to give this scrambled/poached technique a try without straining out the thin whites and my week-old supermarket eggs set up just fine, thanks very much. This could be another solution to which there is no problem. Here's some more:
Next, beat the eggs with a fork, but don't add salt. (The grains of salt will tear the structure of the eggs, causing them to disintegrate on contact with the water.) Let a covered pot filled with about four inches of water come to a low boil over moderate heat, then remove the cover, add a little salt and stir the water in a clockwise motion. After you've created a mini-whirlpool, gently pour the eggs into the moving liquid, which will allow them to set suspended in the water rather than sink to the bottom of the pot, where they would stick.
I tried them two ways, with and without salt. Without salt they set up as one big blob of eggs, while with salt they fell apart into dozens of little strands. After being strained out, though, and assembled on my plate, the eggs with salt were just as edible and tasted just the same, but a bit saltier. I did make a whirlpool cuz it's fun, but I never make a whirlpool when poaching eggs the usual way in non-nonstick pans and my eggs don't stick to the pan. Things tend not to stick to pans filled with simmering water. Anyway...

The bad news: these eggs are bland and boring. Scrambled in a frying pan with butter over low heat, stirring constantly, eggs become rich and custardy. You can add cream, salt, extra butter, and other seasonings (e.g., tarragon). These poached/scrambled eggs might have been ok under a blanket of rich sauce but with just salt, pepper, and a bit of butter on top they were pretty lifeless. Actually, I hated them.

And the good news: my scrambled eggs are better than the ones in the New York Times.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Gratuitous latkes shot

This is from last week. Chanukah 5767 begins on December 15, 2006, at sundown but latkes are nice in any season.

Egg off

These are the eggs with onions and cheese at Bagel World restaurant, on Wilson west of Bathurst in Toronto (click to make frighteningly large).

And these are the eggs with onions and cheese I made a couple of days later at my parents' house.

Aside from the scale, they look pretty much the same, right? Well. I doubt the BW eggs were cooked in butter. Mine weren't made with processed cheese (the stuff I called cheesy-weezy as a little kid) but with actual cheddar. Mine weren't stirred with a plastic fork, apparently the BW secret. I remembered that detail only too late. I stirred with a plastic pancake turner and I don't think the dish suffered a bit. I didn't serve mine with two slices of decorative tomato. When you eat at BW you have the pleasure of eating in a blue Formica booth amidst unique charms like a handwritten chalkboard menu (abbreviations like K. CHEESE, K for Kraft) and a giant mural of a bagel with cream cheese on the wall.

The biggest reason BW eggs are better: my onions never get quite as brown and delicious as the pros get theirs. Part of me wants to duplicate this feat of slow cooking but the other part prefers to let them have their mystique. And I definitely don't want to know if they use some kind of nefarious shortcut, brown sugar or worse.

Eggs with Onions and Cheese alla Bagel World

8 eggs
3 or 4 medium onions
6 oz (approx) cheddar cheese, in half-inch cubes
butter, at least a tbs, more=better
salt and pepper

Chop up the onions, heat the butter in a medium pan, and cook the onions over medium-low heat until nicely caramelized, at least half an hour, stirring frequently.

Beat the eggs well with a few pinches of salt and when the onions are ready for them, stir the eggs in and scramble over medium heat until they're almost ready. Stir in the cheese, some more butter wouldn't hurt either, and check for seasoning. If eating in winter, please don't put any shitty excuses for a fresh vegetable on your plate.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Shrimp my way

Tonight I made Barbara's pad Thai for dinner, sticking with her general procedures and ingredients but subbing shrimp for chicken. (We had chicken the other day and shrimp was on sale.) I didn't make the shrimp cocktail you see right there in addition to shrimp pad Thai. I'm all for starch with your starch but shrimp with your shrimp would be the bad kind of decadent. No, the picture is just to illustrate "shrimp" in absence of that pesky cable to connect camera to computer. Today I thought I should have just bought a replacement but by now the original is in the mail and anyhow, I told myself the other day, blogging sans pictures could be an productive constraint. Yeah. Actually, I'll come back to the picture at the end of the post.

I don't share the American supershrimpophilia. Shrimp are the favorite sea creature of the USA and the USA is world's largest per capita consumer of sea creatures. This makes shrimp the best-loved seafood of the seafood-loving country nonpareil. We eat more shrimp even than canned tuna, which was the favorite until 2001. Unlike canned tuna shrimp signifies luxury and good times, though now that you can get lots of it cheap at chain restaurants it would seem likely to be on the way down in status if not consumption. I like shrimp but I also like squid, mussels, clams, oysters, crab, octopus (put some in my New Year's Eve fish stew, baby ones, both cute and yummy) and every variety of fish I've ever tasted, provided it was fresh and well prepared. What little lobster I've tried was pretty great. I've had bad experiences with scallops treated with some heinous preservative chemical and haven't touched any for a couple of years, but I'm sure I would love good scallops too. They look great when TV chefs cook them and when my dining companions order them in restaurants. I just don't love shrimp any more than any of these other things.

At the Milwaukee Public Market last weekend the shrimp on sale varied in price wildly: U-10 shrimp (less than 10 to a pound) were going for $17.95/lb. These are jumbo shrimp not much smaller than a banana. Medium shrimp, 31-40 count, were going for $4.95/lb. These are perfectly bite size. I like the smaller ones but some people evidently think size matters. It's their money but I'm not impressed. I never buy the big guys so I wouldn't know if they're any good, but my sources tell me medium shrimp taste better. (I never buy the really little shrimp. Should I?)

I almost always buy shrimp frozen in 2 lb. bags. When they're on sale they cost $10.99 per bag. This makes the market price pretty good but there's still an advantage to buying frozen. In Milwaukee or any other place that's more than a bike ride from the ocean, all the shrimp starts out frozen and if you defrost it yourself you know it's "fresh." I don't know that I have ever had shrimp that was truly fresh. Probably not. Maybe it's just as well, because if I knew how good truly fresh shrimp taste I might not want to eat the frozen kind. But these days the shrimp are frozen individually, not in a block, and on the boat soon after being caught. Eating these is better than eating never-frozen shrimp that have been sitting around too long. (I think I learned all this reading Bittman's cookbooks, so to him as ever, all glory.)

Shrimp defrost very quickly and I usually speed it up even more by dropping them frozen into cold water and leaving them in the fridge. Shrimp don't seem to lose moisture this way and there's an added advantage: if you salt the water they pick up flavor. I always brine shrimp before cooking them, sprinkling table salt (not kosher salt) in while they defrost. I have never measured how much I put in but I would guess a couple of tablespoons to a few cups of water.

In my experience, with medium shrimp it's virtually impossible to undercook. When they curl up and turn pink they're cooked. I threw them into the pad Thai tonight just ahead of the noodles and they were done well before the dish was finished. I didn't worry too much about them overcooking, though, because with a brine they absorb some moisture along with the salt. This is another advantage of brining.

Finally: shrimp my way is not shrimp in pad Thai. They tasted fine but got lost a bit in the strong mix of flavors. Chiles, shallots, garlic, ginger, tamarind, fish sauce, oyster sauce, sugar, lime juice, peanuts, shrimp. It's all a bit much. I still haven't found a better way of making shrimp than shrimp cocktail. Shrimp, defrosted in brine, sprinkled with Old Bay seasoning, lubricated with a little olive oil, broiled for just a minute or so a side, chilled, and dipped in a cocktail sauce of ketchup and horseradish. That's the best. Anything else is excess. (This is a reprise of something I blogged about at the end of October, which is where you've seen that picture before if you were wondering.)

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Best-of update

A couple of weeks ago I kvetched about the best of 2005 lists. I said:
The year-end best-of lists are a nightmare. I feel like I must not have been alive in 2005. I haven't seen the movies, haven't read the books, haven't listened to the records. I have spent much of 2005 reading blogs, watching television, and chasing a toddler around playgrounds. The MSM hasn't been offering me the best blogs or television shows or playgrounds of the year. Why not?
No one has come forward with the best playgrounds but since I wrote that, entries in the other two categories have appeared. My pick of the best of 2005 television lists would be TV Gal's. As for the blogs, there's a usual-suspects list from last June (?) at Time. But a much better roundup is to be found at Kottke (not the MSM, mind you).

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

What's new?

My son, the little man, loves both bananas and ketchup. What luck to find that the Philippines produces a ketchup made of bananas! You're looking at it right there, Jufran banana sauce, a product I for some reason have never noticed before at the Asian Mart. I also never noticed the black pepper sauce, which makes me feel a little dumb about being so enthusiastic about the chicken in black pepper sauce at Happy Seven in Toronto. There are lots of things one might not notice in an enormous, confusing multi-ethnic market and one of my resolutions for the days ahead is to notice more of them. For instance, today I also noticed Pocky, the Japanese biscuits dipped in chocolate or strawberry or green tea cream that I've read about on The Girl Who Ate Everything. Evidently they have appeared in my visual field many a time, as they're right next to the register, but today was the first time I picked up a box and put it in my cart. It is now clear to me that one cannot help but eat all the Pocky on the desk in front of one while while typing at a computer. One eats many, many Pocky this way. Perhaps even too many.

I was watching the Food Network yesterday afternoon because I was feeling too sick to do much else. I have a cold and a cough that has had me off-and-on out-of-commission for a couple of days. I didn't feel like reading or watching something I would really have had to pay attention to, so I tried some Molto Mario and some Everyday Italian, then some Simply Ming on PBS. I realized how little of this programming I watch these days. I used to get ideas for what to cook from the chefs on TV, but this function has been completely replaced by food blogs. Hence my Jufran and my Pocky and many other things I have been eating in the past few months. I also realized that Giada de Laurentiis has become more voluptuous than I remembered her, which explains some of the questionable Google traffic I keep getting, and that the commercials are still just as annoyingly frequent. Down with the Food Network!

I also spent much of today and yesterday sucking on Halls Mentho-Lyptus drops to soothe my throat and this has made almost all food taste kind of dull if not just bad. The Pocky tastes good but the chap chae noodles and potstickers I made for dinner were just kind of blah on my palate and the pasta with Italian sausage I had for lunch seemed uninspired. I think the food was fine. My bloody numb tongue was the problem. To that add the fact that I still don't have the cable to connect the camera to the computer, so taking pictures is basically useless, and I'm not much use to you, dear reader. I promise to cook something good and show it to you in a day or two or three but for now here are some belated forward-looking hey-it's-2006 thoughts. These are some things I want to eat in the next 362 days (in addition to Jufran fried rice and green tea Pocky).

-Organs. I have never tried most of the standard variety meats such as kidneys and sweetbreads. Beyond tongue and liver I'm basically clueless.

-Duck. I've never roasted a whole one of these or cooked the breasts on their own as the upscale restaurants do. The new public market always has fresh duck and I feel like I should be buying it to keep the supply going. Can one person make this kind of a difference? You never know.

-Lamb. I'm especially eager to roast a whole leg for a crowd but as of now I don't really have a crowd that would be interested in this kind of thing. Is that pathetic? I wish I could make it for you, my virtual dinner guests around the world. I'm also eager to experiment with ground lamb in middle eastern and south Asian ways.

-Braised veal dishes like osso buco. Never even tried it.

-Korean food. The bulgogi I made a few weeks ago was great but it's hard to know whether I'm on the right track with this stuff. There is but one Korean restaurant in Milwaukee and the usual sources can't tell me if it's really good or not. I might be missing something but it seems from my rather casual searching that Koreans have missed the food blogging bandwagon. For instance, there are no Korean blogs listed in Chef's Blogs directory. Koreans, where are you?

-Pickled vegetables. This is a continuation of Korean food, since east Asia seems to be a kind of pickled vegetable paradise. But the Jewish food of Eastern Europe has also produced its share of these.

Well that's enough for now. If I think of more I'll let you know. I'm now going to go numb my tongue in front of the tube. Allez Cuisine!

Sunday, January 01, 2006

What I did on my winter vacation

If you bring your camera to Happy Seven on Spadina between College and Dundas, or to any of the restaurants in Toronto's Chinatown with specials menus written on posterboard on the other side of the restaurant from where you are seated, you can impress your dining companions by taking pictures of the menus and reading the offerings back--or passing the camera around--at the table. It was fun for a second but it didn't help us avoid the worst dish we ordered.

We took our chances on the shrimp in cream coconut sauce and it was dull, bland. If we had ordered crab or lobster in this sauce it would have been really sad. We've had a similar dish in Milwaukee with mayonnaise in the coconut sauce and candied walnuts alongside the broccoli and it's fantastic in an odd sort of way. Other Happy Seven dishes impressed us more, though, such as this chicken in black pepper sauce.

It was exactly as it looks and sounds: chicken, soy sauce, and lots of black pepper. It sizzled like crazy when it appeared on the table but as far as I can tell this is just theater. Perhaps you can set me right if I'm mistaken: does a sizzling dish actually taste any different from a non-sizzling dish?

This outing was part of the traditional Jewish Christmas Eve observance of going to the movies (Brokeback, thumbs way up) and eating Chinese. Our excellent Jewish Christmas celebrants, readers of this blog, were I & S of Ottawa, Ontario. Here's hoping 2006 brings you plenty of tasty treats, kids.

Christmas Day? More Chinese food and more movies. E and I talked my dad into dim sum and when our first choice place, Asian Legend, was mobbed with eager dim-summers (none of them Jewish from the looks of it), we decided we were too hungry to wait and wandered along Dundas and then up Spadina in search of a plan B. The Chinese in Toronto carry on on December 25 as though it were any old day. There were no people on any of the streets of the city except down in Chinatown, where everything was open. We lucked out by happening on Golden Leaf, just up Spadina from Dundas, for lunch.

The fried shrimp dumplings come wrapped in rice noodles. These alone might be worth a trip to Canada.

This appears on the menu as Jelly Fish. It was my idea to order it. I figured either it would be fish in jelly, which would appeal to my aspic-curiosity, or it would be jellyfish, which I figured would be worth a try if only as a future conversation piece. As you can see, it was the latter. It was served cold, dressed in sweetened sesame oil (from the taste of it). The texture was something like chewy noodles and any distinctive jellyfish flavor was totally obscured by the dressing. I would eat it again but I can't say the same for my wife or father.

One revelation was this fried rice in lotus leaf. When I peeled back the wrapping I was surprised to see that the rice was reddish. It had mushrooms, dried and fresh, tiny shrimp, and who knows what else in it. It had an unexpected sweet and savory flavor that at first I couldn't put my finger on, but after a few bites I decided that it must be tomato ketchup. This is now on my long list of things to put in fried rice (which includes suggestions, in the comments on previous entries, including lap cheong and kimchee).

Golden Leaf listed this as vegetable in oyster sauce and I don't know if the vegetable changes by season, but I would be disappointed if we ordered this next time and it wasn't bok choy. We loved this dish.

There were lots more items on the table that I could tell you about: sesame balls (wow), egg custard buns (wow wow wow), Malaysian satay (not so wow), BBQ pork buns (good), steamed dumplings (also good), fried squid fingers (zoinks). We ordered way more than three people should eat which is exactly how it should be. Then that night we saw Munich with Little Sister and I can't speak for her but neither E nor I thought it was "anti-Israel" or "making a case for moral equivalence between terrorists and Israelis" or "bad for the Jews." I don't buy any of these claims that have been made against the film which are, no doubt, a product more of the sensitivity of the Israel-Palestine issue than of the content of the movie. I should add that I really like Spielberg and think he gets a bad rap, so maybe it's just me. I found the film totally absorbing and not at all simplistic. The theater, one of the megaplexes that have been built since I moved away, was packed on the night of the 25th.

Eating out in Toronto is quite a bit better than eating in Milwaukee. This isn't to knock Milwaukee, which has plenty of interesting local things to eat. But Toronto is much bigger and way more cosmopolitan. The suburban shopping malls have bubble tea stands like the one above where they mix flavor shots (I had mandarin orange) with green tea, ice, and big black tapioca balls. (Bubbles? Not really, but the name is cute.)

And on Queen Street near John you can get a Nutella crèpe to tide you over until the next time you're in Paris. Maybe in the future there will be bubble tea and crèpes all over medium-size Midwestern American cities but I doubt it.

The display windows on Bloor Street were decked out for the holiday. You can't help but stare at these girly pink play appliances (I pointed these out to my brother and sister-in-law, also visiting for the week, which produced this post). The little man liked playing with these toys when we were in the store. They also carry a play kitchen in blue but it's not the one in the window. The pink one is called "retro kitchen" and the blue one "metro kitchen." The pink retro includes a sink, ice box--the catalog copy is retro too--and stove (and matches the pink washer/dryer) while the blue metro includes a kitchen island and fridge. None of this comes cheap, of course. At first I was pissed off by the equation of femininity with domestic work and it doesn't help any that they consider this "retro" as though now it's cool for women and girls to pretend like second-wave feminism never happened. But upon further reflection I kind of want one of these kitchens. They're so much nicer than the crap they sell at Toys R Us.

There was more spectacular food during our stay in the big city but some of it is trapped in my camera. I forgot to pack the cable to connect it to the computer, so only the shots I saved to disc before deleting a few days ago are available to me tonight. This means I have to stop now until I have my cable back, or until I break down and run to Radio Shack for a replacement. But before I do, the tastiest thing we ate in Toronto is right here:

This is my mother's Friday night chicken. She roasts it in pieces at 400 with lots of spices on the skin: sweet paprika, garlic and onion powder, black pepper, and salt. It's kosher poultry (and the label says "grain fed") and she always looks for the smallest pieces which, she says, are the tastiest. I cannot believe now that as a child I didn't like chicken skin and let my brother or father have mine every week, year after year. Perhaps they owe me something in return?